Supplementary Sertin

Jean-Pierre Sertin sometimes reminds me of Luigi Narsceni, or is it vice versa? Both of them, in any case, have a longstanding habit of leaving projects unfinished. With Narsceni it has become a project in itself (he recently vowed to ‘never finish a…’); with Sertin, however, I suspect that it is an unwanted attribute, brought on by a surfeit of ideas and a lack of time in which to complete them. Either that or he has a touch of the Toussaints (or ‘Caging Swallow Syndrome’, as I like to call).

Last night at The Crippled Bee Sertin unveiled his latest, doomed, idea.

‘I’m writing a new novel,’ he announced.

‘What about the old one?’

Sertin ignored this. ‘It’s based on a Sunday supplement’

We all nod, sip, nod, sip and nod once more.

‘You know those Sunday supplements? The Sunday magazine and all that?’, asks the indefatigable writer.

We all nod, sip, and scratch our noses with our forefingers. It’s a rhetorical question, after all.

‘How crazy are they?’ Sertin chuckles. ‘I mean, honestly – what is going on there? Or, more appropriately, what isn’t going on there? Those magazines lurch from one subject to the other like drunks. One minute we’re reading about war in the Congo, the next minute liposuction in Florida. Then we get an interview with a prizewinning architect, an advertisement for olives and advice on how to end a relationship with a man who collects stamps. All the world is there! And yet each magazine is almost instantly forgettable. The glossiness slides by us like a beautiful stream. A stream of terrifying nonsense: funny, sad, tragic, entertaining, you name it. They’re a law unto themselves, those magazines. Which is why…’

This time Sertin takes a sip, scratches his nose, and takes another sip.

‘Which is why,’ he continues, ‘that I propose to write a novel based on them; a novel that takes as its subject anything that appears within the pages of one, just one, Sunday magazine.’

We all nod. It sounds like a good idea. But a good idea is never anything more than just that. We all have good ideas – some of us have great ones. But how many of us ever get around to putting them into practice?

‘Good luck with the new novel,’ I say to Sertin as we leave the public house, a hundred or so sips later.

‘New novel?’ he says, lurching slightly.

Conversation at The Crippled Bee

‘Clothes thrown over an old chair. Not an Arab riding a dragon to work. Bedside lamps – the imagination’s worst enemy’. (Johannes Speyer, Repeated Scrawlings)


Sertin has been drinking – exactly what I do not know. A dark red beer with a heavy head. I think it may be called ‘Goblin’s Delight’ or ‘Bloodmancer’. In either case, it causes hiccups: shameless and continuous hiccups.

‘I read your piece – hup! – the fabric of – hup! – things’

The falling of fabric?’

‘The – hup! – fabric of falling – hup! – things, yes. I passed my – hup! – eyes over the substance of it – hup! – the other night.’

‘I’m glad to hear you read my blog.’

‘Well, you read myhup! –  rubbish.’

‘Compliment taken. Go on.’

He pauses to sip another centilitre.

‘News – hup! – papers,’ he begins again: ‘Newspapers are – hup!my fabric, I think. My – hup! – drapery. My – hup! – tumbling cloth.’

‘Oh yes?’

‘Oh yes indeed. I live off the chaos of the humble – hup! – newspaper. The mad and random stories flung hap – hup! – hapzardly together. Nonsense united – hup! – by the day on which it – hup! – happened. The crazy paving of the modern – hup! – magazine provides me with endless – hup! – inspiration. This next to – hup! – that and that next to – hup! – this. Whenever I’m lost I turn to the newspaper. I seek it’s – hup! – godawful realities and godblessem fantasies. I fall into its jerky journalistic rhythms, trapped in its ever – hup! – whirling cogs.’

‘Oh yes?’

‘Indeed oh yes. The careless tick-tock of the – hup! – daily paper keeps my own pen pressed to the precious paper. Cannot live without my newspapers and my magazines, my journals and my flyers, my supplements and my annuals. Endless cheap stimulation. Thrown all over my floors. Need them. Really need them’.

He pauses.

‘Glad to see the hiccups have gone,’ I venture.

‘Th – hup! – nks,’ he says.

I order myself a whisky.

On Sertin’s Terms

Last night at The Crippled Bee, Jean-Pierre Sertin and I, after a drink or five, got down to the business of discussing search terms. I say ‘got down to the business’: this sounds as though our discussion was pre-ordained. It wasn’t, of course. Sertin’s mind, and mine, move along uncertain channels of wind. Our thoughts flutter like flakes of late winter snow. Down the weird stream of fancy we flow. Through the tides of…

Anyhow. Where was I? Yes: search terms. This is the subject to which we turned, apres much meandering. Sertin had, I fancy, read this post and it had, as well it might, turned on a switch in his creative mind. He was, as ever, full of ideas. And one idea bobbed to the surface more than all the others. And it was this:

To create a work of fiction directed solely by search terms. One starts – on a blog, perhaps – with a story. In time, restless web-adventurers find themselves paddling in the sea of your story. The search term that has brought them there offers for you, the writer, a new departure. You leave by the route by which people came to you. The reader directs the writer, but without knowing it.

There are all sorts of implications, no doubt, though one (i.e. ‘I’) would need to see how such a thing worked out in practice before offering full judgement. Which brings us, I guess, to the tricky part. Sertin is already notorious for working on twenty or so projects at once. His creative pockets are overflowing. He has more ideas than he knows what to do with. Will he, can he follow this particular one up?

Turn on the Light

‘Last night I solved the mystery of the universe. It came to me in a flash as I was dropping off to sleep. I ought to turn on the light and write this down, I said to myself: something like this needs to be written down quick, or it’ll disappear. But no, said another part of me: there’s no way this idea will disappear. It’s too big – the implications are simply too huge. You’ll remember this in the morning, no doubt about it. Of course I didn’t remember it in the morning at all. It was gone for good’ (J-P Sertin, in conversation this afternoon, at The Crippled Bee)

Tales and Tails

Last night at The Crippled Bee I urged my companions to bring forth beer, and then, in turn, the very best of their writer and pet related stories.

Why so? After all, I care not for pets myself. Why people will insist on wandering around our beautiful parks and woodlands accompanied by a yapping, hairy, four-legged professional-shit-depositor on a lead has always been a mystery to me. A goldfish in a bowl? Unless it’s nestling on a bed of salad, with a fig-flavoured balsamic dressing, it’s not for me. A rabbit in a hutch? I don’t think so. Bunnies belong in Hades’ lair.

Still, one must appreciate that, beyond my own (clearly) superior tastes, there are other points of view. Writers and artists have, throughout history, frequently turned to animals – as inspiration, as part-time companions, as – dare I say it? – close friends. Like it I don’t, but pets abound in the annals of obsure european literature. Who can forget Hector Spinkel’s Bornean Whoolah Bird, or Louis Marchant’s monkey-faced owl? Literary history crawls with animals: lambs lightly leap, moles courageously dig and cheetahs simply wizz through its never-ending pages.

So, I hear you say, isn’t it time someone created some sort of ‘Pet’s Corner’ for fans of obscure european literature? Perhaps you’re right. In any case, though I wouldn’t go so far as to predict that this will be a regular feature (what ever happened to my daily routine series after all?), I hereby announce that I will, over the coming weeks and/or months, be sharing a few of those aforementioned writer and pet-related stories with you.


oh brszny!

Last night at The Crippled Bee, conversation turned – once more – to the subject of Brszny Derydaripov.

Few joined me in his defence, whilst the prosecution party was overwhelmed by cohorts. He is, I surmise, the type of poet that ‘gets people going’. Or else I am really am mad.

No, but I stand by my man. Brszny is not the idiotic prancer people think he is. So what if he indulges in a guilty rhyme or two? There is method to his silliness. Even his loosest spoofs contain a kernel of purest profundity.

‘Oh Georgy, come off it!’ (to quote a close friend) ‘How can you possibly defend the man who wrote this?’ A fair point, perhaps. After all, the poem in question does contain some of Brszny’s less – how shall I put it? – ‘obviously glorious’ moments. ‘A haven from the diaper stink’ would appear to be a case in point, so too the allusions to ‘sweetie-pies’, ‘foul plots’ and the criminally cockney ‘ain’t’. On the other hand, I am inclined to remind readers that Derydaripov is, primarily, a satirical force; a keen collector of language, who selects words with deliberate care and uses them, despite their reputation, to make a range of subtle points. By which I mean this: there is much more to poems like this than meets the eye. Ode to the Hyperlink is not, as it may seem, a manic, brainless ramble, but a cunning attack on contemporary culture. Not Brszny at his best, maybe, but there is nothing – I repeat, nothing – to be embarrassed about here. No, no, no…

Milk, Horses and Girdles

Sunday evenings at The Crippled Bee are charged with the spirit of competition. Who can whip from within their sleeve the most intriguing, entertaining and informative anecdote of the day? To which man or woman will fall the honour of having held, for the longest period of time, the rapt attention of our mildly rowdy, highly literate crowd?

Each of us, armed with a pint of the amber stuff, try our hand. One by one we attempt to outdo the other, concocting tales of ever-increasing chaos. It’s wit against wit, charm against charm: one inebriate flight of fancy against another drunken yarn.

I’ll confess it now: I was on bad form last night. The clouds of melancholy had been hanging around my head all weekend and I wasn’t in the mood to spin a mighty story. Instead I trotted out a variation on an old tale; retelling, with misguided brio, the infamous incident involving Johannes Speyer, the daughter of the German countess and the large glass of vanilla milk. It was poorly received – even by those who had never heard it before, in any form. I retired to the shadows, to be joined, shortly, by J-P Sertin, whose tedious chronicling of a dream he had in which a horse with no face attacked his brother fell on similarly unforgiving ears.

No matter. Even if I had rolled out one of the great fables of the age, I doubt it would have gone down quite as well as the series of anecdotes recounted by the man-whose-name-I-always-forget-but-whose-moustache-never-fails-to-fascinate-my-wife. He’s been a regular at The Crippled Bee for a couple of months now and rarely fails to fling out a story or two of unparreled perfection. It probably helps that he spent several years working as a coroner – a job that tends to generate a better class of narrative than that of a literary editor. Still, he tells them well, you can’t deny it. Oh yes indeed. It’ll be a long, long time before I forget that one about the two men trying to get a dead woman out of a girdle. A long, long time…